Green Solutions for an Old Home
Modern control systems and creative problem solving help cut energy use in this charming 103-year-old house.
A Control4 system helps the Varns manage energy in their home.
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September 22, 2008 by Lisa Montgomery

Old, historic homes are notorious for being cold and drafty. Scott and Sam Varn’s Asheville, NC, bungalow was no exception. “Even here in North Carolina winters can get very chilly and cold air would just pour in,” says Scott. “Homes like ours waste, on average, five times more energy than modern homes.”

Sealing the Deal
The Varns could have easily sealed up their home by putting in new energy-efficient windows, but that wouldn’t have set too well with their local historic resources commission. Built in 1905 by renowned architect William Sharpe Smith, the 2,100-square-foot residence is one of his designs featured in the Montford Historic District, as well as the National Register of Historic Places. To remove the original leaded glass windows would have upset the home’s architectural integrity. Fortunately, there were other less intrusive options that would afford the Varns a greener, more energy-efficient lifestyle.

Renovating the old home is nothing new to Scott. As co-owner of Harmony Interiors, an Asheville-based home systems installation company, he’s dealt with his share of inefficient homes. He knows that technologies like home automation systems and dimmable lighting definitely make an impact, but first he had to take care of that awful draft.

Draperies were one of his first lines of defense. Heavy fabric curtains were hung on the north-facing windows to help insulate the house from the cold outdoor air. The south-facing windows were kept uncovered during the day to collect the warmth from the afternoon sun. Secondly, Scott sealed up the electrical outlets. “When this house was built, electricity was still a bit of a novelty, so many of the outlets didn’t have back boxes,” he explains. “Even the outlets that were added later weren’t sealed correctly.” These outlets, in addition to old-fashioned door locks, provided open avenues for the outdoor air to enter. Fresh caulk and new gaskets did the trick, creating a stable indoor environment that could now be effectively managed by high-tech home systems.

Reducing Waste
After replacing the existing oil furnace for a gas unit, Scott installed a Control4 home management system. This would allow him and Sam to better regulate the new Control4 thermostat that went in place of the old unit. Scott programmed the new thermostat to adjust automatically based on the time of day. Having it set back automatically at night has helped somewhat, says Scott, but what’s made the biggest difference in their energy usage are the Control4 keypads. “My wife and I are like most people,” says Scott. “We waste a lot of energy simply because we forget to turn things off.” Mounted to the walls in prime locations, the keypads let the Varns adjust the thermostat remotely by just pressing a button. A goodbye command, for example, lowers the thermostat to an energy-saving daytime setting of 50 degrees. When the Varns return home, a hello command returns the thermostat to its original setting of 62 degrees. That may still seem a bit chilly, but Scott maintains that it’s the most energy-efficient level for this particular house. “The furnace can get the house from 50 to 62 degrees in about 10 minutes and can maintain that setting easily,” he explains. “It’s kind of like driving 55 for better gas mileage. To go faster would burn more gas, just as raising the temperature to 68 degrees would have required that the furnace run constantly and eat up more energy.”

Lightening the Load
There was no reason for the lights to run on full power, either, thought Scott. By swapping the home’s original toggle switches for Control4 dimmers and plugging table lamps into Control4 dimmer modules, the same commands designed to lower the thermostat could now also turn off the lights. The only exception would be at night. When the goodbye mode is engaged in the evening, the Control4 system keeps a few fixtures dimly lit so that Scott and Sam can see their way out of the house. The lights gradually fade out over a five-minute time period.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

Equipment List

Sony HS51A Video Projector
Draper 92-inch video screen
Toshiba 27-inch LCD HDTVs

Bose Jewel cube speakers
Bose Acoustimass subwoofer

Audio and Video Components
Bose AV18 Media Center
Control4 wireless amplifiers

Control and Security
Control4 thermostat
Control4 HC-300 controllers
Control4 dimmers and keypads
Panasonic IP surveillance cameras

System Design and Installation
Harmony Interiors
Asheville, NC

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